Champagne Dreams and Birthday Wishes

Two Cork Dorks, 4 domestic Sparklings and a blind tasting as we search for the answer to what to drink and how to be as insufferable in the debate as possible…

Sometimes I wonder what normal people do with their best friends for their birthdays. This last weekend was my annual birthday trip to Philadelphia to spend two days with my Bestie- the real bitch (oh, and real Somm) behind this Somm Bitch. We’ve been friends since we were five and the fact that we have both somewhat randomly found this amazingly complex world of true cork-dorkiness (he majored in Economics in college, I was raised Mormon and majored in theater, then Marketing) is just another testament to the concept of platonic soulmates. His birthday also happens to be the day after mine, so we always get together for a weekend to do something fairly epic, but classic us.

Friday afternoon I embarked on my three hour journey to South Philly- my always messy Mini gassed up and raring to go, Season Three of my current podcast obsession (My Dad Wrote A Porno- seriously, go, listen. It’s good) plugged into the aux cable and plenty of seltzer water to get me up 95. An hour from Philly I texted Bestie to say, “An hour out, it’s birthday weekend so I expect to be greeted with a glass!”

As usual, he did not disappoint- in the door just as he’s cleaning up the smashed flute he dropped on the floor at my arrival (don’t worry, t was empty, no champagne was wasted or harmed). Cut to a bottle of 2005 vintage champagne! Michel Jacquot – grower (RM) Champs from Aube subregion- things Bestie (he’s definitely the more educated and dorkier of the two of us in all things wine) felt were really important I knew.

Spoiler: it was delicious. He did explain to me Jancis Robinson’s take on the 2005 vintage, a vintage she called mostly lackluster due to variable conditions that year, but amazing weather leading right up to harvest ensured ripeness but kept acidity on the lower side. My take? Wow, heavy on yeast- but I really enjoy that about a good champagne, the scent of rising sourdough almost a little too much to get anything else at first… and then, wow. I got flavors of lemon curd, caramel apples (green Granny Smiths at that), and a tiny bit of hazelnut. Bestie got the caramel apple, but kept going to a pastry dough- leaving us NO choice but to keep sampling until we had both seen each other’s points. Thank God we were heading to a MORE than substantial dinner then.2005 vintage

So, Saturday at 10:30 finds us ready to get serious- we’re both working on our blind tasting skills, but set up an admittedly weird challenge for us to test ourselves. Four bottles of domestic sparkling, all Methode Champenoise, all in the $20-30 range. Ok, four champagnes- we can do this, right? We wrap them up in the cool velvet bags so you can’t see anything about them and just as I think we’re ready to get started, he decides we need to “benchmark” with the ultimate- some Tattinger will remind us of the ideal we’re looking for.

Tattinger, Nectar of the Gods. Even non-vintage, it’s some of the best champagne I’ve ever put in my mouth. Again, it’s a bit heavy on the yeast- that’s all you can smell in the minute after you open the bottle. And then, those aromas mellow just a bit and you can start to get the notes of lemon zest, cream, honeysuckle, toasted hazelnut- some unbaked apple pie… pure heaven in a glass.

So now we move on. Now, let’s be very clear, this is a strange kind of blind tasting we’re doing- we’re trying to see if based on look, flavor, nose, etc. we can figure out WHICH bottle is which- from which region/producer does this come? The four sparklings:

  • Argyle Brut Willamette Valley, NV ($25.99)
  • Roederer Estate Brut NV ($26.99)
  • Schramsburg Mirabelle Brut MV ($27.99)
  • Tattinger Domaine Carneros 2013 ($28.99)

I suggested we taste and make comments BEFORE reading what the wasreviewers said of each one- try to form our own opinion first, THEN see how to apply it.

Bottle 1,  Roederer Estate Brut NV was delightful. It was a bit pale for me to think it was the Vintage, but the notes were dried fruit (there was SO much back and forth as to WHAT that fruit was, I think we settled on mango), bread like what you’d make with a batter- some kind of light baking spice and no yeast. It wasn’t particularly mineral (no sensation of licking chalk or limestone) but was definitely elegant and had more than a little complexity. It was also well-balanced with a long finish. We originally thought “This is the multi-vintage (where they mix in small amounts of the best vintages with the lesser vintages for a real layering effect)… until we tried #4, then it became pretty obvious.

Bottle #2, the Tattinger Domaine Carneros, stopped me in my tracks- it was just so light, I had to make sure he hadn’t tricked me and slipped a Prosecco in there. It was exceptionally light, ALMOST more frothy than bubbly, it had a strong nose of blossom, lemon curd, Bosc pear… but also a relatively light taste. This one was nothing if not ethereal- it seemed to live in the upper registers of our sinuses, it felt like it was floating- like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory when they’re just ingesting bubbles and floating on them. I could almost taste the flavor evaporating on my tongue as it soared to the top of my mouth. Obviously, given the flavor, nose and pale straw color, it’s NON vintage.

Bottle #3, Argyle from Willamette, OR was a different beast entirely. This one reminded me of true, legit, straight-up  Champagne. It wasn’t dead on necessarily, but the nose had briney qualities; not exactly a day at the beach, but serious maritime/sucking down pots of oysters type memories were evoked. There was some sourdough bread rising both on the palate and the nose, some toasty, nuttiness (I’m going with Hazelnut) while still having plenty of baked red apple and baking spice. I started to wonder if there was some anise, but that felt like a fairly pretentious bridge too far. Then, at the very end, it reminded me of the smell of the wet limestone on my parent’s patio after a severe summer storm… it all came together in a visceral and compelling way. Given the flavor, the legs, the color, etc- I was pretty positive this was from Oregon (Argyle).

Bottle #4, Schramsburg Mirabelle Brut MV was pretty Champagne-esque… but didn’t check the right boxes for me. It lacked any kind of yeast/nut flavor-  There was stone fruit, some pronounced minerality, delicate Meyer Lemon.. it was gorgeous- Champagne-adjacent I would say.  While I very much enjoyed sipping (and eventually, to be honest, guzzling), it still didn’t evoke feelings of Versailles, of velvet, of oysters nor caviar. It didn’t make me want to revolt or put on a beret… it was just good- not perfection.